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The Finest Feminist Film of 2006?


Could a movie co-starring Mickey Rourke as a hit-man be the feminist film of the year? Quite possibly, yes.

The movie is Killshot and it is scheduled to open later this month. There is one big reason I want it to be a feminist film – that is, a story that either treats women as socially, politically, and economically equal to men or, more likely, shows the folly and injustice of not treating them as such – and several good reasons to believe the filmmakers just might deliver.


Director John Madden has a good story to work with and deftly handled a feminism-friendly subtext in his best film, Shakespeare in Love. Not that that particular subtext was too much of a challenge: after all, Elizabethan practices notwithstanding, a woman can probably better play the part of a woman on stage than could a man.

That is not to say Killshot is likely to be a “message” film – I deplore that kind of movie and do not think there is much danger of it happening in this case – but it’s a good bet that the story will say something incidentally enlightening about social relations while entertaining the audience. Why do I think this is possible? Because the movie is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard.

Leonard is brilliant at writing intelligent, believable female characters that easily make the jump to the big screen. The second-best example of this type of Leonard-created woman is “Jackie Brown,” the titular character of Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Leonard’s Rum Punch. Pam Grier played Jackie, a poorly-paid stewardess on a commuter airline who is busted for bringing drugs into the country. She’s guilty, but everyone in the movie is guilty of something, even the good guys. And gals.

Jackie Brown

Leonard’s strongest female character to make it to the big screen is Karen Sisco, the federal marshal who gets caught up in a Florida prison break and has to track down the charismatic bank robber who temporarily held her hostage after she wandered into his escape path. Sure it’s a kidnapping, but in film and fiction that is sometimes known as “meeting cute.” Jennifer Lopez played Sisco in the film version of Out of Sight. It’s a fine film – in my view it was not only the best picture of 1998 but also director Steven Soderbergh’s best film to date; Lopez’s, too.

Out of Sight

Karen is smart and tough, yet what makes her such a great character is that she’s self-aware: she knows it’s a mistake to fall – OK, maybe she just stumbles – for a bank robber (played by George Clooney). And she tries to fix her mistake. I will not spoil the ending of the book or movie, but I do want to go on the record in saluting screenwriter Scott Frank for actually improving the book’s perfectly good ending.

In the film version of Killshot Diane Lane plays Carmen Colson in a role that should show her to be smarter and more resourceful than the men around her. Of course, since I haven’t seen the film, I’m thinking of the character in Leonard’s novel. Carmen is even better positioned to strike a blow for feminism than Karen was in Out of Sight. Unlike Karen, Carmen’s job does not require her to carry a gun or interact with criminals. Carmen is a housewife (or whatever feminism-friendly term applies) and part-time real estate agent, the most improbable female lead in a first-rate crime story since Mildred Pierce (another great book and movie with an incidentally strong feminist theme).

Mildred Pierce

Carmen’s interaction with the bad guys who wander into her otherwise placid life is the central conflict of the story -the film trailer shows her in her underwear, tied to a chair by these criminals – but some of the more interesting aspects of her character in the novel have to do with her assessment of her husband Wayne (played by Thomas Jane) and their marriage. They are a happy couple, yet his emotional intelligence is not quite up to hers. Leonard sketches these characters brilliantly, coloring in Carmen’s personality without savaging Wayne’s character.

I want Killshot to get it right because it stars Lane, one of the more luminous and talented actors working today. Lane has been acting regularly since her teens – I can still recall how credible it was that this young beauty could be the cause of the gang war in Streets of Fire (1984) – and her film work so far this century must be the envy of any female actor of her generation. And yet I thought her characters in two of those recent movies, Must Love Dogs (2005) and Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), were a waste of her charms. Actually, worse than a waste of her charms: they depicted her as pathetic, unconfident, and locked in desperation from which, we are led to believe for most of her screen time, only a man’s attention and affection could save her.

Much the same could be said for her character in the disappointing Hollywoodland (2006). Lane played Toni Mannix, a powerful movie mogul’s wife who takes up with George Reeves (TV’s “Superman”) due to her husband’s own overt philandering. Although that character had some depth—Toni is not always pathetic, sometimes exhibits great confidence, and is partly in control of her destiny and choices–and Lane did a fine job with the role, Toni is certainly no feminist heroine.

Lane, and feminism, was much better served as Connie Sumner in Unfaithful (2002). Unfaithful was based on a French film which was based on Madame Bovary but Connie Sumner’s reasons for straying are even less obvious than were Emma Bovary’s. Connie makes a big mistake, and makes it just as a man would – irrationally, and led astray by a temporarily overactive libido. Lane artfully inhabited this character in what is her best role…at least so far.

Here’s hoping the writer and director of Killshot have used Lane to again bring some of Leonard’s affection for and attention to intelligent women to the big screen. Here’s also hoping you don’t realize that you have seen the finest feminist film of the year until you have left the cinema.

Share  Posted by mzeringue at 1:48 PM | Permalink

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